Green Mountain Madness
Green Mountain Madness
The earth quaked. The cabin shook. The dishes rattled.
At 10:03 on a Sabbath evening the last of three cannon shots reverberated in our small valley. Of course, we didn't know at first that they were cannon shots. I thought someone had set off a stick or three of dynamite. Late night revelry or blowing away some cursed ledge, whatever the reason for the explosions, they were unnerving. One of the residents on our hill went to bed with a large carving knife at her fingertips. Four boys on the cusp of adolescence, who genuinely enjoy a cap gun fight, did not find the quaking earth, the shaking cabin, and the rattling dishes a source of amusement.
I phoned 911. Two state police patrolmen appeared within the half hour. I pointed in the direction of the explosions, maybe a quarter of a mile away. The young officer shook his head and offered an explanation filled with a native Vermont perception about those of us who come from more "civilized" corners of the world: "Some people come up here and think they can do anything they please." I took it personally and reported that we had been summering in these parts for the past fifty-two years and never previously had we experienced anything like that evening's blasts. Smokey and colleague got in their cars and headed toward the site I had pointed to.
The next day a local sleuth and Barbara inquired of near neighbors who spend the entire year on our dirt road. Oh, they knew who the mad bomber was. They provided name and location. He too comes from Connecticut. Like the state police officer suggested, he thinks he has a right on his property to do whatever pleases him. And it appears he gets his jollies blasting wads of cotton out of a cannon. His next door neighbor reports that she yelled at him near midnight one night earlier this year when he was playing Civil War games with gun powder. Her young son was sleeping when the shot rang out. "Stop it, you imbecile," she screamed in the direction of his trailer. He doesn't speak to her any more.
Once, a long, long time ago, I wrote an essay for a gathering of clerical colleagues entitled "Heaven." Mostly it was a discourse on the Biblical words and images about what we hope will be our final resting place. In passing, I suggested that one of the best ways to understand that destination is to extrapolate from singularly wonderful moments here on earth. Like our cabin in Vermont, I offered. Serenity. Green fields. Distant mountains rising in majesty. Family firesides. Fresh corn on the cob. Things like that give credence to a legend on a T shirt Barbara won't let me wear, to the effect that if you brush your teeth, pay your taxes, help old people cross the street, and generally pursue a virtuous path through this mortal life, God will bless you with eternal residence in Vermont.
But my T shirt says nothing about middle-aged cannoneers. You know, the snake in the grass, the rotten apple in the bushel, the Judas among the Twelve. The English version of Brahms' German Requiem translates a line from the Letter to the Hebrews that "here on earth we have no continuing place." Nor one undisturbed by the idiosyncratic pastime of a forty-five year old adolescent. Not even in Vermont.
The Monday following the noisy Sabbath evening, it was reported to us, the gunnery savant, now penitent, visited neighbors on the road and in the valley (the direction in which he was firing) to apologize. I suspect, cynic that I am, that he might have been encouraged by the police to make such amends.
Fireworks are outlawed in Vermont. No cherry bombs or one-inchers allowed. Not even the mild incendiaries recently legalized in Connecticut. When the police were asked about the legality of cannons, they insisted that with firearms, if not fireworks, anything goes. Let Howard Dean say, "Amen." Osama had better steer clear of the Green Mountain Boys whose arsenals, I bet, are larger than anything along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But there is a limit the local cannon transgressed: noise pollution. Gunpowder is okay, but the sounds it produces when ignited are not.
Isn't this a wonderful world we live in? I memorized a quote from Emerson in my high school years: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." Were it not for a sense of humor at the contradictions our ideals (the right to live in peace versus the right to blow up that peace provided we do it on your own property), I think we would all go mad.
I hear a weary chuckle or two emanating from the throne of heaven, like the parent of a frustrating child at its latest prank. It's a good thing God loves us so much or he would never let his grace cover our folly.